The Mandela Washington Fellowship is a flagship program of President Obama to invest in the next generation of Young African Leaders. The program that started in 2014 brings 500 fellows from across Africa to United States at 20 U.S. Universities and colleges. Fellows spend 6 weeks at various universities focusing on three main areas: Business and Entrepreneurship, civic leadership, public management. Almost 30,000 people applied this year for 500 spots and in Rwanda alone there were over 850 applications and only six people were selected.
I and other 24 fellows from 18 other African countries were hosted by the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame in South bend, Indiana. It was an intense 6 weeks program full of classes, mentorship programs, networking opportunities, and industry visits.
Some of the industry visits include: General Motors headquarters and Quicken Loans headquarters in Detroit, MI, Barnes and Thornburg offices in Indianapolis, IN, PricewaterhouseCoopers offices in Chicago, IL and so many more.
Here are the top 5 things I learnt from Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) program:
COLLABORATION IS KEY
At the University of Notre Dame one of the class we took was a business simulation called “CAPSIM”. We were categorized in groups of 5 people all from different countries and working in different sectors. The challenge of the simulation goes beyond business knowledge, as it requires collaboration and communication between group members to achieve a particular goal. Indeed the group that worked and stayed together for 6 weeks became the champions of the business simulation. Like all the other groups, the winners disagreed on many cases but they accomplished by staying together for the common goal.
Lessons learnt: If five people from different countries can’t work together for 6 weeks to achieve a common goal, how can 54 countries with millions of people work together to achieve an “THE AFRICAN DREAM” that we are all aspiring for? As President Obama said on this years’ YALI Presidential summit “our greatest challenges are bigger than one nation or even one continent” hence to succeed collaboration is key. There is unity in diversity therefore its only through collaboration and partnerships that shall spur efforts towards ensuring development in Africa.
YALI is all about networking. During the six weeks at the program, it was like living in 18 African countries at the same time. The culture, conversations, business discussions were diverse and very enriching. It was very crucial for me and other fellows to network and create life long connections between each other as much as it was for other professional networks. All fellows have inspiring businesses and programs they run back in their countries. This was a great time to share what each of us do and learn from other fellows. My background being in technology, I got to learn more business opportunities in other sectors such as Energy, E-waste management, Recycling and Health. My hope is we can have more of these similar programs within Africa so that the youth can share with each other business ideas and opportunities for continuous inter-trade partnership across the African continent.
Young entrepreneurs in Africa tend to think locally when developing markets for their products or services. YALI opened my eyes of the opportunities that lie in other African countries. During discussions, fellows provided first hand information on business opportunities, polices on doing business and processes of opening a business in their countries. These discussions led to future business partnerships and collaborations. As of today just weeks after returning home, I am already in talks with another fellow from Zambia to take our products to their market. And I hope to continue talks with other fellows on the potential of doing business in their countries plus helping those who want to come and do business in Rwanda.
Mentorship is crucial, that’s why at the University of Notre dame fellows received both one-to-one mentorship and small group mentorship. Mentors provided tips on how to be a successful entrepreneur, how to raise capital, how to identify potential partners, personal and professional branding and so much more. The most exciting part is how all the mentors and professionals whether on college or in other industries were passionate to give their best and made time whenever you scheduled meetings with them. In addition to that they encouraged us to keep in touch with them whenever you have questions or need assistance. The best session I had with one of the mentors was about “goals realignment”; I cannot describe how that moment changed my entire thinking and it’s spur a great dialog with other fellows. As I was lucky to benefit from mentorship, I look forward to continue sharing the knowledge by mentoring other youth in my community.
Last year the program was renamed “ Mandela Washington fellowship” from the “Washington Fellowship” and the announcement was made by President Obama at the summit. He said, “this program reflects Madiba’s optimism, his idealism, his belief in what he called the endless heroism of youth”. At the presidential summit this year in Washington Dc where all 500 fellows meet after their 6 weeks program, I experienced extraordinary talents, energy, hope and afire in the room. Fellows give hope of the future of their countries and Africa. It was my great honor to know each one of them and was inspired by every conversation we shared. The future of Africa is promising and “AFRICA RISING” is a reality because I witnessed the future through the 500 fellows.
Next years Mandela Washington Fellowship program will double the number from 500 to 1000 fellows. I strongly encourage all talented youth doing amazing work in their communities to apply, as this is a lifetime opportunity to network with other talented African youth.